Marc Prensky pushed a ‘moral panic’ button in 2001 when he published, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Prensky warns, “This is not just a joke. It’s very serious, because the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”
However, others propose a more “measured and disinterested approach.” In the British Journal of Educational Technology, the authors of “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence” question the claims about the digital native designation and the implications for education.
The debate over designating those born between 1980 and 1994 as “Digital Natives” is over the main claims made by Prensky:
- There is a distinct generation of digital natives
- Education must fundamentally change to meet the needs of digital natives.
The opposition says these claims have “weak empirically and theoretical foundations.” The authors of “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence” summarize the main assumptions about the “Natives:”
- Young people of the digital native generation possess sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information technologies.
- As a result of their upbringing and experiences with technology, digital natives have particular learning preferences or styles that differ from earlier generations of students.
Researchers have discovered that while students were immersed and connected to technology only 21% were involved in creating web content using multimedia. The student’s technology skills were generally lower than might be expected of digital natives. In another finding, the researchers did not find technology experience and skill-sets were not universal among “digital natives.”
In the same way, “digital immigrants” are not all inept as Prensky might suggest. If that were true, how would you explain Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?